Sunday, April 12, 2020

Riders Of The Purple Sage, Old, New and Resurrected (Who Was Bobby Ace?)

Dawn Of The New Riders of The Purple Sage, a 5-cd box released by the Owsley Stanley Foundation at the end of 2019
The end of 2019 has greeted us with two remarkable releases by, of all unlikely bands, the New Riders of The Purple Sage. The Owsley Stanley Foundation provided a remarkable 5-disc set called Dawn Of The New Riders of The Purple Sage. It included the second show ever by the band, before they even had a name, from August 1, 1969. There were also complete sets from August 28 '69, October 14 '69 and June 4 '70. As if that weren't enough, the discs were filled out with additional numbers from other sets on those weekends. Abruptly, a UPS delivery opens a wide window on the early music of the New Riders of The Purple Sage, and Jerry Garcia's critical role in their formation.

Around the same time, the NRPS Archive continued its excellent series of releases with Thanksgiving In New York City, a two-disc set containing the complete late show at the Academy Of Music in Manhattan from November 23, 1972. In contrast to the tentative explorations of the early Riders, the '72 band was road tested and battle hardened. They played a wide variety of originals and covers, rocking hard while the melodies soared. By then, Garcia's pedal steel chair had been taken by the great Buddy Cage, and Cage took Garcia's basic melodic template and exploded it into a remarkable kaleidoscope of sweet picking and sharp sustain.

On February 5, 2020, Buddy Cage moved on up for his final load-out. Relix had a nice Memoriam, which you can read, but I recommend playing some New Riders of The Purple Sage music loud, really loud, in Buddy's honor. And Jerry's too, for that matter. The new releases will do nicely, and we can finally unravel not just the mythology of the early New Riders, but how their music actually evolved from a pickup bar band to a major touring band, in a musical sub-genre in which they were among the pioneers.

When we look closely at the reality of the origins of the New Riders of The Purple Sage, rather than the myth, something unexpected comes into view. On the edge of Grateful Dead history, there were occasional references to a murky ensemble called Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck. The Cards Off The Bottom seem to have been a bigger part of the original plan than anyone thought, only to get written out of the origin story.

Thanksgiving in New York City, an archival release from the New Riders of The Purple Sage. It features both NRPS sets from the late show on November 23, 1972 at the Academy of Music in Manhattan.
NRPS Mythology
The fable of the origin of the New Riders of The Purple Sage is simple, mythical and largely wrong. Sure, there are a few elements of truth in the myth, but the story has been repeated so many times--not least by members of the Dead and New Riders--that everyone now assumes that the myth is fact. The truth is far muddier, and the Owsley Foundation release at least untucks the covers of the story.

The Riders were spoken about in many interviews, and still are, on occasion, but there was almost no actual information about the first version of the band. Up until the release of Dawn Of The New Riders of The Purple Sage, here's what we had about the 1969 incarnation:
  • Two live tapes, Aug 7 '69 from the Matrix and Sep 18 '69 from the Inn Of The Beginning
  • Two studio tapes: "Marmaduke and Friends," with two tracks from 1968-69, and a four song demo from November '69, both released on the Relix lp Before Time Began. There were no liner notes.
  • No live reviews from the 1969 incarnation
  • No eyewitnesses, either
  • No on-stage photos
Journalists only became interested in the Riders around '71, and queried Jerry and others in interviews. Garcia, and later John Dawson and David Nelson, told the same story again and again. It goes like this:
  • Garcia got a pedal steel guitar
  • Dawson went to a Dead rehearsal, found out Jerry had a steel
  • Dawson visited Garcia to play, Garcia found out that Dawson had a Wednesday night gig playing original songs in Menlo Park, and decided to accompany him
  • Garcia and Dawson invited Nelson to join them in Menlo Park
  • The trio invited Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh to join them on drums and bass, and went on the road. The theory was that they could acquire the money for the opening act while only bringing two extra people. 
  • Later Dave Torbert replaced Phil, and then Spencer Dryden replaced Mickey. Then they made an album. 
Only one thing about this myth is definitively incorrect--Phil Lesh never played on the road with the New Riders--but this simple story belies a far more interesting origin.

Thesis: What Was The Plan?
A clip from the Porter Wagoner syndicated TV show in the late 60s, playing "Old Slewfoot" (originally a hit for Johnny Horton). Many of the "obscure" country covers sung by Bob Weir were recorded by Wagoner around 1968--"Slewfoot," "Let Me In" and "Green Green Grass of Home," for example

This will be a long post, and it will be kind of hard to follow if you aren't sunk in New Riders minutia like me, so I'll lay it out:
  • Garcia and Weir watched a lot of syndicated country music TV shows on Saturday afternoon
  • In mid-1969, they conceived of touring like a country show, with a variety of interlocking performers filling an entire evening, ending with the headliners
    • The New Riders of The Purple Sage were one part of the plan
    • A group called Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom was conceived as a vehicle for covers, duets and other material
      • The Cards Off The Bottom would have included the members of the Dead, the Riders and additional players like Peter Grant
  • After various tentative explorations, the plan was scaled back
  • An Evening with The Grateful Dead was the end result, It debuted May 1 '70, featuring the "acoustic Dead," the Riders and then the electric Dead
  • Ultimately, the Grateful Dead and the New Riders had to split apart, in order to keep both organisms thriving.
Marmaduke: The Palo Alto Years
John "Marmaduke" Dawson was a few years younger than Jerry Garcia. Dawson's family lived in Los Altos, just above Palo Alto, and he had gone to Peninsula School with Bob Matthews. Dawson was interested in folk music and The Beatles, so it's no surprise he was in the outer orbit of the very tiny proto-hippie circles of Jerry Garcia and his friends. According to one story, Dawson took some lessons from Garcia at Dana Morgan Music, but I can't verify that.

Dawson made a self-financed album in 1964 that has recently surfaced, and he seemed to be a typical folkie of the time. Dawson graduated high school in 1964, had a brief foray in college (Occidental, I think) and then an equally brief time in England, but seems to have returned to Palo Alto by the time of the Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Band. Dawson was around for the Warlocks' debut at Magoo's Pizza. David Nelson tried out Dawson as the bass player for the New Delhi River Band in Fall '66, but Nelson said that "Dawson wasn't really a bass player," a kind way of saying his friend's sense of time wasn't very strong.

It's not really clear what Dawson was doing between 1966 and 1969, but it doesn't really matter. He was young and the world was changing, and he was thinking about being a musician and songwriter. There are only a few sightings of him from back then. There are hundreds of photos from the free concert at Palo Alto's El Camino Park on July 2, 1967 , and supposedly Dawson can be seen helping Bob Matthews with the Grateful Dead's equipment. I don't really know where Dawson lived at the time, but I assume it was the South Bay.

Later, in mid-1968, Bob Matthews got a job building a recording studio in San Mateo, called Pacific Recorders. Some months later, the Grateful Dead would spend several months recording and re-recording Aoxomoxoa there. Initially, however, as Matthews and his girlfriend Betty Cantor built up the studio, one source of income was letting aspiring songwriters and bands record demos. Betty has mentioned playing kick-drums on some Dawson demos, essentially because his time was wobbly. While she didn't mention a date (and probably didn't recall one), it would make sense that these recordings were in mid-68, when Pacific Recorders was available for paying customers. It also makes sense that those recordings were later re-recorded or overdubbed, and they became the two tracks known as "Marmaduke and Friends" that were broadcast on KSAN and released on the Relix album.

In the Fall of 1966, the New Delhi River Band, with David Nelson and Dave Torbert, were more or less the house band at The Barn, in Scotts Valley, amidst the Santa Cruz Mountains. This flyer was for October 14 (NDRB) and 15 (Flowers)
I have written about what is known about David Nelson's rock career from 1965 through 1968 in great detail. To summarize, he was in a psychedelic blues band called the New Delhi River Band who were popular in the South Bay, but never made it to the bigger stages. The group had ground to a halt in February 1968, and Nelson seemed to have no musical activities for several months. The next sighting of Nelson was in Fall '68, when Betty Cantor describes him riding up to the Aoxomoxoa sessions at Pacific Recorders on an Indian motorcycle.

In early 1969, Nelson started hanging out with the remnants of Big Brother and The Holding Company, as he was old pals with Peter Albin. After at least one Matrix gig, however, any band plans went on hold as Albin and Dave Getz went on tour with Country Joe and The Fish. Nelson was mostly living at Big Brother's rehearsal warehouse, although by mid-69 he had moved to Divisadero, near Haight Street. Dawson and Nelson had some involvement in the Aoxomoxoa sessions, enough to be named on the back of the album, although it is unclear what their contributions actually were. I assume they did handclaps or backing vocals, which may or may not have been processed or erased in the endless sessions.

Marmaduke, Jerry and Dave
Somewhere in the middle of April 1969 the mythology gets very potent. We know that Jerry Garcia bought a Zane Beck D10 pedal steel guitar at Don Edwards' Guitar City in Lakewood, CO, on April 13 or 14, while the Dead were on tour. He bought the steel the week after seeing Sneaky Pete Kleinow play one when the Flying Burrito Brothers had opened for the Dead at the Avalon the week before. Dawson has said that he attended a Grateful Dead rehearsal in Novato, and that Garcia told him he had a new pedal steel. Dawson invited himself over sometime later to hear Garcia play it, although whether it was at Garcia's Larkspur house or at the Novato rehearsal hall is unclear.

Dawson played his own songs, so that Garcia would have something to play along to, and Garcia took a liking to them. Garcia then invited himself to one of Dawson's gigs. Dawson was singing his songs by himself on Wednesday nights at a Menlo Park "hofbrau" called The Underground, on El Camino Real. As near as I can tell, it was on 1029 El Camino Real, just a few blocks from Magoo's Pizza. The first such gig was probably May 7 or May 14. Garcia seems to have brought Nelson along shortly thereafter, and they seemed to have initially played as a trio.

Some apparent facts that are never reflected on:
  • John Dawson was an old friend of Bob Matthews from Palo Alto, and had known most or all of the band for some years. While Dawson still lived in the South Bay, he was still connected enough to hang out at a 1969 Dead rehearsal. By 1969, although the Dead were flat broke, they were genuine rock stars, and half of the hip Bay Area wanted to hang out at their rehearsals, so Dawson was not just nobody to them.
  • Dawson heard that Garcia had a new pedal steel guitar, and asked or invited himself to come over and see it, and Garcia appears to have agreed. So Dawson's connection to the Dead extended personally to Garcia, not just Matthews. Yet no one ever mentions Dawson around the scene any other time than the rehearsal, so there may be added layers that we don't know about.

Rukka Rukka
Dawson, Nelson and Garcia did indeed play a few Wednesday nights at The Underground (see below for a prospective list). According to the mythology, the trio decided to add a rhythm section and take it on the road as a "real band." While that isn't untrue, trace evidence suggests that someone, almost certainly Jerry Garcia, may have had a different plan entirely.

Whatever was happening down at The Underground on Wednesday nights, rehearsals shifted to a "ranch" known as Rukka Rukka, where Weir and others lived (no ranching seems to have taken place, by the way). Weir and unknown others were playing with the Ur-Riders around June 1969, and that has been written out of the month. The Dawn Of The New Riders release gives us a taste of that, with Weir's guest appearance at the Aug 28 '69 Family Dog show. We had known that Weir played a few numbers with the Riders in the first appearances of "An Evening With The Grateful Dead" (May 1 and May 2 '70), but we can now see that was a leftover from a different plan.

More importantly, an enitely different band seems to have played a few gigs, according to Dennis McNally (p.321). The group consisted of Nelson, Dawson, Garcia, Weir, Lesh, Hart, Tom Constanten and Peter Grant. They played a date at Peninsula School in Menlo Park, per McNally (see here for a discussion of the exact date), and then a show on June 11 at California Hall. A flyer survives for the California Hall show, and McNally even found a setlist. We see some of the numbers that would turn up in acoustic Dead sets, for both Garcia and Weir, but it is tantalizingly unclear whether there was a separate set featuring Dawson and his songs. Peter Grant, an old pal of Garcia's, seems to have been the designated banjo player.

Yet these two shows at Peninsula and California Hall have simply been dropped from the Riders origin myth, because they don't fit. What might Garcia have been thinking? While I am about to introduce a tangent that will ultimately require an entirely different, very lengthy--even by my standards--post, everything points to Garcia and Weir watching a lot of syndicated country music shows on weekend afternoons, which as you know is when touring rock musicians wake up.

To most Americans, the best known syndicated country music show was Hee Haw, featuring Buck Owens and Roy Clark. That show, however, first aired on CBS (prior to syndication) in the Summer of 1969, so it wouldn't have been an influence.The most prominent of the syndicated shows  from the mid-60s appear to have been The Porter Wagoner Show and Buck Owens Ranch. Fellow scholar Jesse Jarnow even pointed that in between songs of the first Grateful Dead "acoustic set" on Dec 26 '69, Weir even said (approximately), "I try to watch as much country music on TV as possible." So I'm not imagining things.

Touring country music in the late 60s, as represented in the TV shows and often on stage, consisted of relatively large, multi-instrumental ensembles, sharing lead vocals and periodically joining together for some gospel-type numbers. There was a headliner, of course, but there was an opening act and all the guitar players sang a song, and so on, and a few people played a bunch of instruments. Hey--this kind of sounds like An Evening With The Grateful Dead, doesn't it? Some folkie songs, a little bluegrass gospel, some country honky-tonk with the New Riders and then the full deal with the Dead. Take another look at those old Porter Wagoner videos on YouTube, and tell me I'm wrong.

Another ignored clue is the presence of Peter Grant at a few Dead shows in June, 1969. Grant played banjo through a Fender Twin Reverb ("set to stun" according to him). The peculiar little banjo experiment wasn't repeated after June '69. If Garcia and the Dead were gnawing on a different configuration, then Grant's seemingly random guest appearances take on a certain logic. Keep in mind also that Grant played pedal steel guitar, banjo and lead guitar, so he would have been a versatile addition to a multi-layered ensemble, just as Nelson and Dawson's harmonies were superior to Weir and Lesh's at the time. 

Weir got stripped out of the Riders, ultimately, to play his part in the acoustic set, and Grant receded back to San Jose, but those facts play no part in the myth. The Owsley tapes re-set the narrative, and we can see them an entirely different way. The Aug 28 show is the hitherto unknown mid-point between the initial Rukka Rukka incarnation and An Evening With The Grateful Dead, before Weir and Dawson were fronting separate ensembles.

A clip from a September 1971 Rolling Stone article by Ben Fong-Torres has the first recital of "The Call"
Who Played Bass?
For me, and pretty much nobody else, there's only question that acts as a fulcrum for New Riders' studies: who played bass? I have written numerous posts on this topic, and even my most loyal Commenters say "aren't you tired of this?" The answer--no. It's a critical question, and we are finally getting some answers, thanks to Mr. Owsley.

The initial New Riders mythology, promulgated in Rolling Stone from 1971 onwards, was that Phil Lesh had been the bass player, until he was replaced by Dave Torbert in Spring 71. The myth has Torbert traveling from Hawaii to England, to meet up with old pal Matt Kelly, and stopping off at his parents' house in Redwood City. A chance call with an offer to join the New Riders changed his plans, once Kelly had given his old friend his blessing. Nice story, eh?

For the release of the now-largely-forgotten New Riders album, Brujo, in November 1974, Columbia Records commissioned a Riders "Family Tree" from the great Pete Frame (later published in Frame's More Rock Family Trees). Besides revealing the existence of the New Delhi River Band, for the initial iteration of the Riders Frame wrote "Phil Lesh or Bob Matthews" as the bass player. I may have been one of the few people who noticed this--in 1975, at KFJC-fm studios in Los Altos Hill, CA, but I digress--but eventually historians caught on to the idea that Matthews had a role. Still, what about the "or"? Did Phil and Matthews alternate shows? What was the deal? Since we only had a few tapes, it was very hard to figure it out.

The search was further confused by Robert Hunter's passing comments that he rehearsed with the New Riders as a bass player, but was never asked to join the group. Two bass players, and a third one who only rehearsed? What sort of band was this? Of course, no one asked the principals. Now, thanks to Owsley, we can review the historical periods of the New Riders from the point of view of their rhythm section, and not their far-more-famous front line.

The Menlo Hub restaurant in Menlo Park, as it appeared in 2012, at 11029 El Camino Real. Menlo Hub was probably the site of The Underground, where Jerry Garcia first played live with John Dawson in May 1969. Next door at 1035 (now Su Hong) was Guitars Unlimited, where Garcia and Weir briefly gave lessons in 1965.
Genesis: John Dawson at The Underground, Menlo Park, CA
John Dawson had apparently been playing his songs at The Underground in Menlo Park (probably at 1029 El Camino Real) on Wednesday nights for some time. Garcia agreed to join him. I think the first night was May 7, 1969. One of the amazing details of the Dawn Of The New Riders box is the revelation that Owsley recorded three reels from May 14. I am assuming that May 14 was the first date with Garcia, Dawson and David Nelson but we will have to wait on the Owsley Foundation for that [update: Nelson had not yet joined]

The Underground, whether at 1029 El Camino Real or not, was very near a music store called Guitars Unlimited, at 1035 El Camino. When Garcia and Weir were fired from Dana Morgan's for obscure transgressions, probably borrowing equipment without asking or paying, they both got jobs teaching guitar at Guitars Unlimited. I think they only taught there for a little while, as it was late 1965 and the Warlocks were morphing into the Grateful Dead. Few students seem to remember them teaching there (unlike Morgan's), and I think they mainly worked there to borrow equipment. Nonetheless, Garcia was still using Guitars Unlimited to work on his instruments as late as 1969 (there's a receipt), so it played a part. 

A peculiar, yet ungooglable footnote to this story, is an eyewitness description of Garcia persuading David Nelson to join him in playing with David Nelson. Writer Paul Krassner wrote an obituary for Jerry Garcia in High Times. Amidst many other reminiscences, Krassner quotes Ken Babbs as going with Garcia to Nelson's "bleak" apartment in San Francisco. Garcia persuades Nelson to join him in performing with John Dawson. Granted, the narrative is mediated through various filters, but it's still fascinating to read the tale, however vaguely recalled. On Wednesday nights in May and June of 1969, Garcia and David Nelson backed up Marmaduke at a tiny sandwich-and-beer joint in Menlo Park, just blocks from where the Warlocks had debuted just four years earlier.

Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom headlined a peculiar show at California Hall in San Francisco, on June 11, 1969
Hypothesis: Bobby Ace and The Cards Off The Bottom, Rukka Rukka Ranch, Marin County, CA
So here's my theory.  I can't prove it, but there's a lot of fragmentary evidence, and it has to be explained somehow. So let's try this on, and the Comment Thread can weigh in on the plausibility index. Remember, though--if you deny my theory, you have to have another one.

In May and June of 1969 we know two things, more or less, about Garcia playing the pedal steel guitar
  • Garcia, Nelson and Dawson were playing Dawson's songs as a trio, mostly at The Underground in Menlo Park
  • Garcia, Nelson and Dawson were "rehearsing" at a hideaway called Rukka Rukka Ranch, where Bob Weir lived along with Rex Jackson, Sonny Heard, Steve Parish and other scattered members of the Dead universe.
I think Garcia was envisioning a sort of country and western "revue," like you would see when Porter Wagoner or Merle Haggard played the county fair. The Grateful Dead plus some of their friends would be the "revue," including Pete Grant, David Nelson and John Dawson. There would be a chance to play some folk music, some bluegrass, cover some country songs and play some new material. Remember, not only did Dawson have a bunch of songs, the material Garcia and Hunter were writing would have fit right into the Porter Wagoner show. We can all imagine Porter or Merle singing "Dire Wolf." With Nelson and Grant on board, Garcia wouldn't be exclusively tied to playing lead 6-strng electric guitar on every number.

I think the "Country Revue" concept was going to be called Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck. Whether the Cards would open for the Dead, or play their own gigs, or both, wasn't so critical at this point. Garcia was thinking big, trying to figure out how he could play traditional and country music on a variety of instruments while still doing the Grateful Dead thing.

We know that Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom were billed at one show at California Hall in San Francisco, on June 11. The Peninsula School show wasn't advertised, and may have been before or after the California Hall show. [update: noted scholar LIA points out that McNally says the band was Garcia, Dawson, Nelson and Phil, but no Weir. So it doesn't quite fit in my proposed narrative, but shows that Phil was involved from the beginning].The Cards Off The Bottom name then sort of disappears, but not entirely. One of the remarkable things about the Owsley box is that when Weir joins the New Riders for the Family Dog show on August 28, Dawson introduces him as "Bobby Ace of Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom." While this is clearly a kind of joke, it's also not a joke--Dawson and Weir sing a series of duets that have clearly been played before.

The musical evidence provided by Owsley suggests that the plan was that the New Riders were an autonomous unit, but that they would be supplemented by Weir and others in The Cards Off The Bottom. By the time the concept reached fruition in May 1970 as An Evening With The Grateful Dead, the organization was a little different. There was an acoustic, folkie set, then the Riders then the Dead. Yet Weir's guest appearances with the Riders in early May '70, singing "Me And My Uncle," are a whiff of an earlier, grander plan.

The name Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck was used one more time, for the April 17-19 shows at the Family Dog, previewing the acoustic Dead lineup. It's hard not to see a link between the name and the duets. And really--where did the name "Bobby Ace" come from? I think it came from the Cards Off The Bottom idea, as no one ever seems to have referred to Weir as "Ace" prior to that.

Jerry Garcia and John "Marmaduke" Dawson are advertised in the Daily Cal, playing at the Bear's Lair at UC Berkeley on August 1, 1969. SUPERB was the Student Union Performance sponsor.
Antithesis: Marmaduke and Friends
By the time of the Rukka Rukka rehearsals, probably in May, Garcia and Dawson were already playing in Menlo Park, with Nelson on board. The last known Underground show was on Wednesday, June 25. The trio also appears to have played on Sunday, June 29. The Grateful Dead hit the road after that, so no gigs seem likely for the next few weeks.

The next time the band appears they are opening for The Grateful Dead (plus Cleveland Wrecking Company and Ice) at Longshoreman's Hall on Wednesday, July 16. The band has no name, but were probably introduced as "Marmaduke and Friends." There were equipment problems, caused by Owsley, and  Blair Jackson describes the proto-Riders gig as "shambolic." The next show was actually billed as "Marmaduke and Friends" in the UC Berkeley Daily Cal newspaper. The band played two sets at the newly-opened student union pub The Bear's Lair. Both sets of this August 1, 1969 show are included in the Dawn Of The New Riders box set. It is indeed the dawn, as they are not even named yet.

I will not describe the music--you can listen to it for yourself. But a few comments are in order. First of all, it's clear that there has been very little rehearsal. Garcia, despite his inexperience with the pedal steel, stays in the groove and atop the melody for every song. Not so much the other band members, save for Nelson. David Nelson's electric guitar is the rhythmic center of the band. Mickey Hart acts as a percussionist rather than a drummer. His parts are interesting, if not always particularly appropriate. He clearly has no real familiarity with country music, which is both good and bad. Bob Matthews' bass playing is very rudimentary, following Nelson's chords for the most part.

The Bear's Lair pub and coffee house opened on the UC Berkeley campus in about 1969. It was in the basement of the Student Union building. Pauley Ballroom, where the Grateful Dead played a few times from 1966-70, is two floors above the Bear's Lair. This photo was taken in 2013, but the basic configuration had not changed much since those days.
The Bear's Lair was tiny. The band was probably playing in the front room. All of the band's comments are audible on the mics between songs. When Dawson suggests singing "The Lady Came From Baltimore," for example, Garcia says "yeah, good song" and plays along comfortably. Nelson seems to follow, as well. Mathews and Hart, however, muddle along, figuring out the song as they go. I doubt the band ever rehearsed much. Garcia and Nelson seem to have known a million songs, but Hart and Matthews didn't have their folk and bluegrass performing background.

The first appearance in print of the name "New Riders Of The Purple Sage," from Ralph J Gleason's column in the SF Chronicle on August 6, 1969. It says " The Matrix tonight and tomorrow night, New Riders of the Purple Sage (W. Jerry Garcia)"
Synthesis: New Riders of The Purple Sage with Bob Matthews
The first use of the name "New Riders Of The Purple Sage" was in the San Francisco Chronicle the next week, when the band played the Matrix for four nights. We have a tape from the second night (Thursday August 7). The band is a little tighter than at the Bear's Lair, but not much. The honky tonk feel of the band is in place, but the rhythm section hardly plays rhythm. Matthews had spent more time as an engineer than as a musician, and he played very simply.

Nonetheless, Bob Matthews was the New Riders' first bass player. For the Dead's first "road trip" with the Riders, to Seattle and Oregon (Aug 20-23 '69), Matthews played bass. So much for the myth of only having to bring "two extra people" because Phil Lesh played bass. The next weekend (Aug 28-30), the New Riders opened for the Dead at the Family Dog, and Matthews again played bass. Thanks to the box, which has the complete set from August 28, and a few tracks from the next two nights, we know Matthews was the bass player. By this time, Matthews and Hart know the material a bit better, and the group sounds more like a band.

Matthews' last gig as the New Riders bass player was September 18 '69, at the Inn Of The Beginning in Cotati. Our source is Matthews' himself, in an interview with Jesse Jarnow (@bourgwick). Conveniently, Matthews taped the show, by hanging his rig off a beam in the ceiling. The band is continuing to improve, but not very fast. In any case, Matthews was a partner in the newly formed Alembic Sound company, along with Owlsey and Ron and Susan (Frates) Wickersham, and he didn't have time to moonlight as a bass player.

1048 University Avenue (at Tenth St), the site of Mandrake's, as it appeared in 2009. Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart played this tiny club in Berkeley in October, 1969 (and Garcia and Hart twice more in April '70)
New Riders of The Purple Sage with Phil Lesh
With Matthews becoming a full-time sound engineer, Phil Lesh took over as bassist for the New Riders of The Purple Sage. Keep in mind that if my hypothesis is correct, then Phil had already been rehearsing with Bobby Ace and The Cards Off The Bottom, so he would have already played at least some of the material. In any case, unlike Matthews, Phil hardly needed rehearsal to play honky-tonk songs.

Dawn of The New Riders provides us with the first glimpse of the New Riders playing live with Phil Lesh, a short 50 years after it happened. The tapes are from a tiny place called Mandrake's, at 1048 University Avenue(near San Pablo Ave) in Berkeley.  The Riders played Tuesday through Thursday, October 14-16, and the box includes tracks from the first two nights (for the full story of Mandrake's, read the unearthly 500+-Comment Thread here, no I did not mistype the number). If my chronology is correct (see below), these would have been just Phil Lesh's second and third shows with the band.

[update: I am completely wrong. Bob Matthews plays bass at Mandrake's. It's even on the tape box. At the minimum, I was doing him a disservice, and he had improved as a bass player. It turns out that Matthews assertion that Sep 18 '69 was his last gig as a Rider is also incorrect, as he must have left much later. When Phil joined remains a mystery]

The New Riders' honky-tonk sound was designed to melodic and simple, befitting its country music roots. Phil Lesh uses his remarkable skills to find hidden melodies in the songs, and to bring them out from the bottom of the sound rather than the top, an unexpected twist. Garcia has something to bounce off now, with Phil on board. Phil cannot help but overlay some more complex rhythms into the melodies, leaving Nelson and Garcia to keep it simple. It goes without saying that Lesh's unique approach makes Mickey Hart's  contributions less eccentric.

With Lesh on board, the New Riders of The Purple Sage become a real band at last. Sure, they have a unique approach to melodies, and their rhythms might throw off Buck Owens, but for the hippie audiences they are playing for, it probably worked. The New Riders played little places around the Bay Area, never opening for the Dead, playing college and nightclub gigs. For all the problems Phil Lesh solves, however, it leads to another--Phil apparently got bored.

All Deadheads take it as a given that Phil Lesh is a musical genius, so it's no surprise that he fills all the holes in the early Riders sound single-handedly. Phil's subsequent career, however, tells us that he never really liked playing bars, nor playing the same songs over and over. I think Phil's experience with the Riders is essential to his brilliant, understated playing on Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. Having figured the music out, however, Phil apparently lost interest in it. The New Riders of The Purple Sage did not cease to exist after November, 1969 but they pretty much ground to a halt.

Friend Of The Devil
The New Riders, with Phil Lesh on bass played six dates in October 1969, and about a dozen in November. All of them were around the Bay Area, and none of them were opening for the Grateful Dead. The Dead played a share of local gigs, too, so there were opportunities for the New Riders to be booked, but it didn't happen, in distinct contrast to mythology.

But here's the thing; after November 1969, what few and far between New Riders bookings there are were mostly canceled. There's nothing in December, as the Dead were mostly on the road. There's a benefit at Pauley Ballroom in Berkeley, on January 19, 1970, but we can't confirm that it happened. In February the Dead are mostly on the road, nor do the New Riders open no shows at home or away. Riders showed were booked for March 12, 13 and 14, 1970 but I demonstrated that the band canceled (replaced by Big Brother, itself an interesting story). There was one more booking, on March 18, 1970 at the Family Dog, when the Dead were between Buffalo and Port Chester. Amazingly, there is trace evidence that the Riders actually played, but that too can't yet be proven unless the Owsley Foundation still has the tape.

Yet despite the lack of performances, the New Riders continued to exist. The explanation is one of simple geography. During the late 1969-early '70 period, Garcia and Mountain Girl shared a house at 271 Madrone Avenue in Larkspur with Robert Hunter and his girlfriend. David Nelson mostly crashed on their couch. A careful review of that underrated source, Robert Greenfield's Dark Star, a 1997 "oral biography" of Jerry Garcia, tells us the crucial clue on page 115: John Dawson lived across the street. Presumably Nelson slept at Dawson's when the Garcia house was full.
[update: fellow scholar Jesse interviewed David Nelson recently. It turns out that Nelson and Dawson lived in Kentfield, about 3 miles and 10 minutes away. Nelson often crashed on the couch at the Garcias when he didn't want to drive home. So my general point about Nelson and Dawson living near is still true, even if it wasn't actually "across the street"].
Once you realize that Dawson lived across the street from Garcia, a number of extraneous threads start to link up. The period where Robert Hunter was rehearsing with the Riders but not performing with them? It makes perfect sense if you realize that Nelson and Dawson were over at his house playing with Jerry, so plugging in and playing along would have been easy. And the whole story about "Friend Of The Devil," as told by Nelson? In short, that Dawson wrote a song, Nelson played the tape for Garcia--remember he was probably sleeping on the couch--and next morning Garcia had added a bridge, so Hunter added some lyrics ("Got two reasons..."). It all makes sense when you realize that Garcia, Hunter, Nelson and Dawson lived in two houses across the street from each other.

Was it coincidence that Dawson lived across the street from Garcia and Hunter? I hardly think so. You can't fault Dawson for anything, though. He was a songwriter looking for a chance, and even a part-time band with Garcia gave him an opportunity he might never get otherwise. So having the foresight to rent the place across the street kept the New Riders dream alive for him and Nelson.

During the Dec '69-Mar '70 NRPS "Interregnum," Garcia and Weir played some brief acoustic sets with the Dead, and Garcia played a little pedal steel on some country covers, so the Bobby Ace idea was still floating around. All the Riders really needed was a bass player who actually wanted to play with them, and it wasn't going to be Phil Lesh.  

The flyer for what was certainly Dave Torbert's debut as the New Riders bass player, at the Family Dog on the weekend of April 17-19, 1970. Also billed were "Mickey Hart and His Heartbeats" and "Bobby Ace and The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck." We know the Dead played acoustic, but nothing else really about the shows.
New Riders of The Purple Sage with Dave Torbert: The Call
David Nelson had started the South Bay's second psychedelic blues band, the New Delhi River Band, in mid-1966. Later that fall, Redwood City's Dave Torbert joined the band on bass (having previously been in the folk-rock Sit-Ins and the bluesy Good News). Nelson, Torbert and their bandmates made a good go of it through early 1968, but the NDRB never made any money beyond Santa Clara County, even though they were known in Berkeley and other places. The band ground to a halt, and by Spring '68 Torbert started to play with Matt Kelly.

Torbert and Kelly were in various bands together (Wind Wind and Shango), but they ended up in a band called Horses that got to make a record for the White Whale label. Despite this modest level of success, Horses broke up as well. Torbert went to Hawaii, mainly to surf, but also playing in a band called The Sun And The Moon. Kelly played blues on the Chitlin Circuit for a while, with Mel Brown, and then ended up in England. Kelly got in a band called Gospel Oak, who had signed with Kapp, an MCA subsidiary. Gospel Oak needed a bass player, so Kelly sent Torbert a plane ticket to London, via San Francisco, to join his band for the album.

For some years, the story was that Nelson or Dawson had called Dave Torbert's parents house "by chance" when he picked up clothes on his way to London. Torbert got the offer to join the New Riders as bass player. He called his friend Kelly, who graciously told him to take the offer to be in a band in California with Jerry Garcia rather than a long shot in London. Torbert helped the New Riders fly high, and Gospel Oak released an obscure album and disappeared.

Was the call a "coincidence?" Of course not. David Gans, at my behest, queried David Nelson about this a decade ago, and Nelson conceded that they knew when Torbert would be there. At the time the Dead, much less the Riders, had no money (thanks to Lenny Hart), so they needed Matt Kelly's MCA money to fly Torbert home. How consciously the whole scheme was crafted can't really be known now, but in any case, Kelly got Torbert to San Franciso, and then let him join the New Riders. A contemporary interview (from Rolling Stone in 1971) concedes that David Nelson's girlfriend actually made the call, another sign that it was a planned event.

The April 17-19 booking at the Family Dog, with The New Riders of The Purple Sage, Mickey Hart and His Hearbeats and Bobby Ace and The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck, almost certainly was Dave Torbert's debut as the New Riders' bass player. It was also the formal debut of the "Acoustic Dead," using the Cards Off The Bottom name for the last time. A tape of the Dead's acoustic set from April 18 was released a few years ago. It's interesting to think that the naming conventions, at least, hint at a grander plan than the streamlined "An Evening With The Grateful Dead."

Spencer Dryden onstage with Jerry Garcia ca. 1971
Spencer, and The Return of Phil Lesh
With Dave Torbert on board, the New Riders were like a real band. Starting on May 1, 1970, they joined the Grateful Dead on tour. The shows were usually titled "An Evening With The Grateful Dead." Garcia and Weir would open on acoustics, usually joined by Phil Lesh and a drummer, and occasional guest appearances by Pigpen, Nelson and Dawson. Then the New Riders would play a set, followed by a full two-set concert by the electric Grateful Dead. In those days, most concerts had two or three acts. The Dead were all the acts--hence the title "An Evening With..." That title was subsequently adopted by almost all touring rock bands who played a show without an opening act.

The Dawn of The New Riders gives us a nice snapshot of the early Torbert-era band, although we do have plenty of tapes and a few photos from that era. Torbert has a solid sense of time and provides nice harmonies. The band has narrowed down their repertoire to the strongest of Dawson's material, and has selected some choice covers as well. As the June Fillmore West shows, however, the weak link was Mickey Hart. His percussionist approach to the drums worked with Phil Lesh, but did not lock in well with the rock steady Torbert.

In the fall of 1970, probably around October, the Riders were signed by Columbia Records and started recording with Stephen Barncard at Wally Heider's. By all accounts, the sessions were terrible. Now granted, the musicians (save Garcia) were inexperienced in the studio, and were notorious for having a party, but I have to think the insurmountable problem was Hart. Radio music, particularly in a country vein, needs a steady beat, and that wasn't Hart's bag. The Riders recruited former Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden around that time, some months before Hart had to leave the Dead for personal reasons. Per Dryden's own story, he was approached about replacing Hart while Hart was still playing live with the Riders, so once again it was clear that Garcia (and possibly others) had a plan. Sally Mann Romano, then Dryden's wife, in her can't-miss book The Band's With Me, makes it clear that it was Garcia who recruited Dryden.

Spencer Dryden was more of a rock and R&B drummer than a country player, but he was solid like Torbert. In any case, the soulful backbeat provided by Torbert and Dryden was perfect for the psychedelic Buck Owens music the New Riders were trying to make. The Buck Owens sound was swinging country laid on top of a rock rhythm section, a kind of rural Chuck Berry sound. Dawson added some songs about dope and ecology, and Garcia added some sustain, and that was the Riders. Dryden's background in jazz and soul, along with the Jefferson Airplane, was an excellent fit with Torbert.

Of the 10 tracks on the New Riders famous debut album, only two tracks survive with Hart on drums ("Dirty Business" and "Last Lonely Eagle"). Dryden plays on the rest of them. It's a wonderful debut album, with a kind of spare beauty that was only hinted at during the prior year's live performances. According to Stephen Barncard, the unsung hero of the recording was actually Phil Lesh. Lesh, credited as "Executive Producer" on the back of the LP, spent time in the studio helping to arrange the songs. Having played a couple dozen gigs with the band, Lesh knew the material. The melodies that his own playing hinted at on the 1969 Mandrake's tape were brought out by the entire band, directed by Phil himself.

Buddy Cage (far right) as a member of Ian and Sylvia Tyson's band, Great Speckled Bird
Buddy Cage: Moth To Butterfly
One way to look at the evolution of the New Riders is to see them evolving, paring back weak links to make themselves stronger. Some original Dawson songs from 1969 were simply not good enough to make the cut, and they dropped away. Bob Matthews and Mickey Hart, for different reasons, were not strong enough either, and they were replaced by better players. Ironically, by mid-1971 the weakest link was Jerry Garcia's pedal steel guitar playing. Garcia had great melodic ideas, and a beautiful feel for getting the right tone, but his picking was well below the quality of a full-time steel player. Garcia himself knew this.

One of the many subplots of the Grateful Dead's adventures on the Trans-Canadian train tour in July 1970 known as Festival Express was the discovery of pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage. Cage was playing with Canadian folk-rock stars Ian and Sylvia, whose band at the time was called Great Speckled Bird. Garcia apparently approached Cage on the train about replacing him in the Riders. It took a while to actually happen, but happen it did. In the meantime, Cage continued to tour with Ian and Sylvia and record with Anne Murray and others (that's him on "Snowbird" I believe). Around September 1971, just as the debut album was released by Columbia, Cage came to the Bay Area to rehearse with the New Riders.

The loyal Garcia played the first leg of the tour with the New Riders. Columbia had paid to broadcast many of the NRPS shows, in conjunction with live Dead broadcasts, and Garcia was the main attraction of the Riders at that point. Garcia played 11 NRPS shows where they opened for the Dead, between October 19 (Minneapolis) and October 31 (Cincinnati). On November 11, in Atlanta, he turned over the chair to Cage. Cage is a rare musician whose very first performance with a new band was broadcast live on FM radio. No worries--Cage nailed it from the first note, which he continued to do for as long as he was in the New Riders.

With an album, a record contract and no members of the Grateful Dead, the New Riders of The Purple Sage were free to be a real band. The new archival release, Thanksgiving in New York City, shows how good they had become after just a year with Buddy Cage. By this time, the band was playing two-hour shows, with a rich mixture of original material and covers of both classic country and contemporary rock hits. Much as we all love Garcia's tasteful steel licks, it's Buddy Cage who was the real deal with ten or twenty strings. Cage could encompass all of Garcia's melodic warmth, pick like any Nashville cat, and still get a rockin' edge from his steel guitar that made him a real rock and roller.

The final trace of Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom was the title of Bob Weir's 1972 solo album, Ace. No one called him Bobby Ace, to my knowledge, prior to the Cards Off The Bottom.
From Small Things Big Things One Day Come
Jerry Garcia had been a bluegrass and folk player in the early 60s, and he became a signpost to new space as a psychedelic rocker later in that same decade. By 1969, he and Bob Weir were looking for a way to play all that music under the same umbrella, perhaps touring the nation like a kaleidoscopic Buck Owens. There would be some folk music, some honky-tonkin', somc original material and straight up psychedelic blues and rock and roll. Did it happen? Yes. But not quite the way it was originally conceived.

America was ripe for country rock, and the New Riders of The Purple Sage were among other pioneers like The Byrds, Poco, The Flying Burrito Brothers and the Eagles. To thrive, the band had to subdivide from the Grateful Dead, like a one-celled animal, in order to thrive. And thrive the Riders did, at least through the 70s. The Dead's acoustic sets disappeared amidst equipment problems in the early 70s, but the country and honky-tonk material stayed, when the Dead added a slew of cover versions to their repertoire. The acoustic Dead was gone, but that music would reappear with Old And In The Way, another acoustic revival in 1980, and the various Garcia and Weir performances throughout the later 1980s.

What little evidence we have for the nascent Bobby Ace and The Cards Off The Bottom seems to have been for some kind of contemporary honky-tonk ensemble. To different degrees, the Jerry Garcia Band and Kingfish filled these roles, playing the sort of Chuck Berry, Buck Owens and Bob Dylan material that had been hinted at by the early Riders. The Dead's huge range of musical interests, combined with the realities of the music industry, made it more sensible to have a slew of ongoing ensembles playing separately instead of touring as a single entity.

You can still have the Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom experience, though, if you want it. If you have the time, set the Wayback machine to the mid-70s. Play some acoustic Dead, play some Old And In The Way, some primo New Riders, a little Kingfish, your favorite JGB set, and then a crushing two-set Grateful Dead concert. It should take about 9 hours. That was the idea, and you have to admit it was a good one.Make sure to play it loud for Buddy Cage, and for Jerry Garcia, and for Keith, and Pigpen and Nicky Hopkins and Dave Torbert and Spencer Dryden, too, and everyone else who we wish were still here.

Appendix: NRPS Timeline 1969-70
For convenience, here is a timeline of known New Riders shows from the 1969-early '70 period. Follow the links for more discussion of the details around each show.
(update: I have made a considerably advanced version of this another post)

April 4-6, 1969 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Flying Burrito Brothers/AUM/Sanpaku
Jerry Garcia hears Sneaky Pete Kleinow playing pedal steel guitar on Owsley's sound system.

Don Edwards' Guitar City, in Lakewood, CO (ca 'late 70s), where Jerry Garcia bought a pedal steel guitar on April 13 or 14, 1969
April 13 or 14, 1969 Don Edwards Guitar City, Lakewood, CO
Jerry Garcia buys a pedal steel guitar from a well-known steel shop

May 7, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park, CA: John Dawson
This was probably the first Wednesday night that Garcia sat in with Dawson.

May 14, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park, CA: John Dawson
Dawson and Garcia played, because the Owsley Foundation has a tape. Neslon had not yet joined.

May 21, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park, CA: John Dawson
Likely a night that Garcia and Nelson backed Dawson (the Dead were booked May 28).
May 1969 GD/Garcia Tour Itinerary

June 3 or 4 (?), 1969 Peninsula School, Menlo Park, CA: unbilled benefit featuring Bobby Ace and The Cards Off The Bottom
Although undetermined, the most likely date for the gig described in Blair Jackson's book is during this week.

June 4, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park, CA: John Dawson
I have indirect confirmation of this date. It's plausible to think that the Peninsula School gig was in the afternoon, and the club in the evening.

June 11, 1969 California Hall, San Francisco, CA: Bobby Ace and The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck
Thanks to McNally (p.321), we know the band consisted of Garcia, Weir, TC, Phil, Hart, Peter Grant, Nelson and Dawson. McNally also found a setlist (not a tape), which consists of the typical covers performed by the "Acoustic Dead" in 1970. A tantalizing clue (ignore the Scientology Benefit side-story, which is tangential).

June 18, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park, CA: John Dawson
Impossible so far to confirm, but presumably the trio played this Wednesday as well.

June 25, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park, CA: John Dawson
Fascinatingly, McNally uncovered a setlist from a serious fan who kept such things. Until or unless the Owsley foundation releases the May 14 tape, this is our only insight into what the trio played in Menlo Park:
Tiger By The Tail / Fair Chance To Know / Mama Tried / The Next In Line / I'm In Love With You / Stagger Lee / Coat Of Many Colors / Whatcha Gonna Do / Truck Drivin' Man / If You Hear Me When I'm Leaving / The Race Is On / Six Days On The Road / Jailbait Gets You Busted / Close Up The Honky Tonks / Last Lonely Eagle / For What It's Worth / I Still Miss Someone / Together Again / Superman / Lay Lady Lay / If You Want To Run / Buckaroo / Long Black Veil / Me & My Uncle / Delilah

June 29, 1969 The Barn, Rio Nido, CA: Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady/Jerry Garcia and Friends
The Owsley Foundation release of Jorma Kaukonen/Jack Casady/Joey Covington Before We Were Them was recorded on June 27, but there is one track from June 28. At the end, the announcer mentions a "jam" at Rio Nido and says that "Jerry Garcia and a friend" will be playing. This is all but certainly Garcia and Dawson, most likely with David Nelson as well.
June 1969 GD/Garcia Tour Itinerary

July 16, 1969 Longshoreman's Hall, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Cleveland Wrecking Company/Ice Hell's Angels Benefit
Unbilled, the soon-to-be Riders opened for the Dead. They came on late, due to equipment problems apparently caused by Owsley. The band played briefly, and per Blair Jackson's eyewitnesses, shambollically.Presumably Matthews and Hart debuted. Given that the Dead had toured much of early July, there can't have been much rehearsal.

August 1, 1969 Bear's Lair, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia and Marmaduke
The band plays two sets, starting at 10:30pm, at the tiny, newly-opened beer joint on the Berkeley campus. Confusingly, the Dead were booked at the Family Dog this night, but did not play. A union of light show workers were striking, and Garcia--union-born through his mother--would never cross a picket line. It's telling that in a non-confrontational Garcia move, he simply booked another gig and clearly had no intention of participating in any dramatic showdown at the Family Dog event.

August 6-9, 1969 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: New Riders of The Purple Sage
Tne New Riders of The Purple Sage name first appears in the San Francisco Chronicle when the band plays Wednesday thru Saturday night at The Matrix in the Marina District. We have a tape from Thursday (August 7, sometimes dated differently).

August 13, 1969  Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: New Lost City Ramblers/New Riders of The Purple Sage "Hoe Down"
This hitherto unknown show was mentioned in the Berkeley Tribe newspaper (August 22-29).
It appears that old South Bay pal Pete Grant sat in with the New Riders on banjo for a few numbers. Not surprisingly, Garcia and Nelson were very excited to play on the same bill with the New Lost City Ramblers, and at the end of the show members of both bands played a few tunes together.

August 19, 1969 Family Dog At The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: New Riders Of The Purple Sage
It's not clear that there was actually a show this night (it was the Monday after Woodstock). [update: the Owsley Foundation has a tape, so it happened]

August 20, 1969 El Roach Tavern, Ballard, WA Grateful Dead
The Dead, The New Riders of The Purple Sage and a group called Sanpaku were scheduled to play an outdoor venue in Seattle. They got rained out, so the Dead played a scary biker bar in Seattle called El Roach. I have written about this at length.Possibly the New Riders played as well.

August 21, 1969 Aqua Theatre, Seattle, WA Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage/Sanpaku
After the rainout, the Dead and their support acts came back and played Seattle's Aquatheatre, joined by Sanpaku flautist Gary Larkey. This was the last performance at the unique outdoor venue, and I have written about it as well. This booking was the first time the New Riders were billed as opening for The Grateful Dead.

August 23, 1969 Bullfrog 2 Festival, Pelletier Farm, St Helens, OR Grateful Dead/Taj Mahal/Portland Zoo/Sabatic Goat/River/Sand/Notary Sojac/Searchin Soul/The Weeds/New Colony/Chapter Five/Trilogy/Bill Feldman/Don Ross/Mixed Blood/Ron Bruce
The Grateful Dead headlined a rock festival in Oregon.   This festival was originally scheduled for the Columbia County Fairgrounds in St. Helens, Oregon, about 30 miles North of Portland, but a local judge voided the promoters contract.  The festival was moved to private property nearby.

The festival ran three days (August 21-22-23). I assume Taj Mahal headlined Friday night (Aug 22) and the Dead headlined Saturday. The rest of the groups were Oregon bands. An eyewitness once reported (in a letter to an Oregon newspaper) that the New Riders (and Country Joe) played the show also, and I find that plausible since we know that Nelson, Dawson and their equipment were with the band.

August 28, 1969 Family Dog at The Great Highway: Mickey and The Hartbeats/New Riders of The Purple Sage
August 29-30, 1969 Family Dog at The Great Highway: Grateful Dead/Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen/New Riders of The Purple Sage/Rubber Duck Company
Thanks to the Owsley box, we have music from this weekend. The Thursday night "Hartbeats" set was a jam, it's not clear if the Dead proper actually played. The event was promoted via handbill and was probably more like a public rehearsal. Commander Cody's band had only recently relocated from Ann Arbor, MI to Emeryville.
GD/Garcia tour itinerary July/August 1969

The Inn Of The Beginning in Cotati, as it appeared in 2010
September 18, 1969 Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati, CA: New Riders of The Purple Sage
Bob Matthews last gig as the New Riders bass player (per himself) was at this tiny bar in Sonoma County, which had opened only the year before. Matthews hung his taping rig over a roof beam. The Dead promptly went on tour on the East Coast. [update: not Matthews last gig]
GD/Garcia tour itinerary September 1969 

 October 9, 1969 Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati, CA: New Riders of The Purple Sage
Apparently Phil Lesh's debut as the New Riders' bass player.

October 14-16, 1969 Mandrake's, Berkeley, CA New Riders Of The Purple Sage
It seems that the shows on the Dawn Of The New Riders box were Phil Lesh's second and third performances with the band. [update: still Matthews on bass]

October 17, 1969  Student Union Ballroom, San Jose State College, San Jose,CA New Riders Of The Purple Sage/The Fourth Way
This may have been the very first rock concert at the newly opened ballroom (soon known as The Loma Prieta Room). The Grateful Dead would return to headline two weeks later. The Owsley Foundation has a tape.

October 22, 1969 Family Dog on the Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: "Ecological Ball" with Lazarus/Garden Of Delights/Heavy Water/New Riders Of The Purple Sage and films
This show had been known from an obscure flyer, but this listing in the Wednesday, October 22 Chronicle sheds slightly more light on the event. Only the Riders and Lazarus were rock bands, as Garden Of Delights and Heavy Water were light shows. The evening sounds like what today would be called a "multi-media" event. The Riders probably played one set.

NRPS Tour Itinerary October 1969

November 3-4, 1969 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA New Riders Of The Purple Sage
The four-song New Riders demo was taped at Pacific High Recorders in San Francisco sometime in November, with Phil Lesh on bass.

November 6, 1969 Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati, CA: New Riders Of The Purple Sage

The Poppycock, at 135 University Avenue in Palo Alto, was one of the steady rock clubs around the Bay Area in 1969. This flyer is for November 8, 1969 and following.
November 13, 1969 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: New Riders Of The Purple Sage
The Poppycock, at 135 University Avenue (at High Street) in Palo Alto, was a fish and chips/beer joint that was also Palo Alto's first regular rock venue.

November 18, 1969 Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco New Riders Of The Purple Sage/David LaFlamme "Square Dance"
LaFlamme likely sat in with the New Riders.

November 19, 1969 Fillmore West, San Francisco New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Big Brother and The Holding Company/Barry McGuire & The Doctor Naut Family
A Family Dog benefit was originally advertised for Winterland, but the show was moved to Fillmore West.

November 20, 1969 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: New Riders Of The Purple Sage

November 22-23, 1969 Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco< CA: New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Anonymous Artists Of America/Devil's Kitchen
The second night, and possibly the first night as well, was likely canceled due to a Grateful Dead show in Boston on November 23.

November 26, 1969 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: New Riders of The Purple Sage
JGMF found this listed in the Berkeley Tribe. Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the third week in a row that the Riders were booked at the Poppycock
November 27, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Lamb/Cleveland Wrecking Company/Deacon and The Suprelles/Rafael Garrett Circus
This was part of a multi-media extravaganza including stage performers and films (whom I have not listed).

A clip from Ralph Gleason's SF Chronicle Ad Lib column on Nov 28 '69
November 28-29, 1969 Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati, CA: New Riders Of The Purple Sage
The New Riders returned to Cotati for yet another show, this time apparently for a full weekend. Its possible that the Riders played Friday (28) and that Joy Of Cooking played Saturday (29), but I will take Gleason at his word here, even though his hastily-typed Ad Lib section often had typos or casually elided certain bills.

The IOTB show was Phil Lesh's last show with the New Riders in 1969, and possibly ever.
GD/Jerry Garcia tour itinerary November 1969

January 19, 1970 Pauley Ballroom, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: New Riders of The Purple Sage Benefit
This benefit show was advertised. It's not clear if it happened, or if the New Riders played at it if it did.

February 7, 1970 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Taj Mahal/Big Foot
I am no expert on tape lineage, but some old circulating audience tapes had John Dawson singing with the Dead (I think on "Together Again"). The old tapes were compilations of some sort, and could have been mis-dated.

March 12, 1970 Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati, CA: New Riders of The Purple Sage
Booked, but the Riders canceled (check out the great Comment Thread).

March 13-14, 1970 New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA: New Riders of The Purple Sage
Once again, the Riders canceled, because they either had no bass player or Phil simply wasn't interested.  The reformed Big Brother took up the dates, it seems.
This photo from p.4 of Tapers Compendium V1 shows tapes in the Grateful Dead Vault, probably ca. 2004. If you blow it up and look on far right of the upper shelf, you can see several tapes marked "3/18/70 Hot Tuna" and "3/18/70 NR." So some recording of the night was made. Investigations continue (thanks JJ and DM for the photo)

March 18, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady/New Riders of The Purple Sage
For many years I thought it was impossible that the Riders played this date, since the Dead were between Buffalo (Mar 17) and Port Chester (Mar 20-21). Incredibly, however, there is a photograph of the tape boxes. Maybe Garcia, Lesh and Hart flew home to help mix Workingman's Dead? I hope the Owsley Foundation still has this...was it Phil's last gig as a New Rider?

April 17-19, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Mickey Hart and His Heartbeats/Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck/New Riders of The Purple Sage/Charlie Musselwhite
The formal debut of the Acoustic Dead, all but certainly the debut of Dave Torbert as the New Riders bass player, and the last glimpse of the Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck.